CANADA'S Rocky Mountains formed a dramatic setting for a recent ride-and-drive event held by Western Star Trucks. Before and after the over-the-road activities, Western Star executives discussed why they are upbeat about the future and how their premium Class 8 trucks are performing in the market.
Western Star continues to build market share across the United States and Canada, and June was one of the company's best months to date, according to John Merrifield, senior vice-president of marketing. Market share is up nearly 70%, but Merrifield acknowledged that the Western Star brand is below 10% of the total market.
“We build a premium truck for a premium buyer, and that is our niche,” he said during the ride-and-drive event, held July 13 and 14 west of Calgary, Alberta, on the Trans Canada Highway. “Our goal is to sell approximately 7,500 trucks each year, and we're nearing 6,000 now.”
Primary customers are a mix of over-the-road owner-operators and vocational fleets. The current customer mix favors vocational fleets 60% to 40% for owner-operators. Merrifield said Western Star's goal is to reach a 50-50 balance.
The manufacturer serves those customers through a dealer and service network that was significantly strengthened over the past four years. The combined US and Canada network has grown from 130 dealers in 2000 to 320 today.
Still, the Western Star trucks remain the prime attraction. The galvanneal steel cab is spacious, quiet, and very durable, according to Jim Crowcroft, manager of product marketing for Western Star Trucks and Sterling Truck Corporation.
Western Star's 4900 EX LowMax model has been a particular hit with a cab height that is almost a foot lower than standard. The truck's lower center of gravity provides advantages in road handling and stability.
Not surprisingly, two of the four tractors chosen for the ride-and-drive event were long-nose LowMax models. One featured a 62-inch low-roof sleeper, and the other had Western Star's 68-inch Stratosphere sleeper. The tractor with the 62-inch sleeper was spec'd with a 515-horsepower Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine and 16-speed Eaton Fuller transmission, while the other came with a 475-hp Caterpillar C15 engine and 18-speed Fuller transmission.
Also part of the ride-and-drive were a 4900 FA with an 82-inch Stratosphere sleeper with a 515-hp Detroit Diesel engine and Fuller 16-speed transmission and a 4900 SA with 68-inch Stratosphere sleeper, 475-hp Cat engine, and 18-speed Fuller transmission.
The route followed in the ride-and-drive covered approximately 70 miles from a guest ranch near Banff, Alberta, to Lake Louise inside Banff National Park. The tractors pulled van trailers loaded with scrap paper giving each rig a 70,000-lb gross combination weight.
Trucking magazine editors had an opportunity to view some of the most spectacular scenery in North America while experiencing the comfort of the Western Star product line. The tractors had plenty of power, handled well, and were extremely quiet. Drivers and riders had no difficulty carrying on a normal level of conversation.
The ride-and-drive showed that Western Star continues to provide customers with customized, rugged, top-of-the-line, heavy-duty trucks that meet the needs of both longhaul and vocational applications.